April 16, 2014

Five Point Deliverance, Part 1

Stephen Nichols
Five Point Deliverance, Part 1


In this episode, we’re going to be looking at a document called the Five Point Deliverance. Now, if you know Calvinism, you know that Calvinists like their five points. Well this isn’t exactly that. The Five Point Deliverance comes out of the Fundamentalist-modernist controversy at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Now to set the stage here we need to understand that liberalism, which was functioning and you might even say ruling in many ways in the church in Europe, was beginning to wash ashore in the American church in different American denominations, the end of the 1800’s. And in the early twentieth century made significant inroads in the Baptist denomination, and the Lutherans; among the Presbyterians. And so there was a group within the theological conservatives, those that come to be called the “Fundamentalists,” that saw what was at stake. They saw that these long-held doctrines of the church, what would constitute historic orthodoxy, were being challenged.

And so within the Presbyterian church there was a group who got together and established what was called the Five Point Deliverance. Now they added this to the subscription for ministers who wanted to be in the Presbyterian denomination. Ministers had to ascribe to the Westminster Standards and they had to affirm their fidelity to the Standards, and what they were finding was that in the 1900’s and in the 1910’s these young ministerial candidates would come along, they would say they believed in the Westminster Standards, and then they would go off into pulpits and they would be teaching that Scripture is not fully inerrant, that Jesus is not virgin born, and so forth. And so to try to speak to that, and try to put in a safeguard against that, they established this Five Point Deliverance and they had ministers ascribe to it.

Now, let me run through the five points, and we’ll likely not be able to squeeze it all in here so we might stretch this into two parts. But as we look through these 5 points, the first is inerrancy. A belief in the full inerrancy of Scripture—that Scripture is absolutely truthful and authoritative in everything it says.

The second is the virgin birth of Christ.

The third is the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

Fourth is a visible, literal second coming of Christ; that Christ is coming again.

And then lastly, that Christ performed miracles and that the miracles as they are recorded in the Bible in fact happened, and are in fact true. So these are the five points. Now you could say, “Well, this strikes me as being so crucial to Christianity who would deny these things?” But lo and behold, there were plenty who were.

If we go back to that first one, inerrancy, this of course is the first domino to fall, this is the crucial doctrine—inerrancy. And this doctrine had been long-held by the church; the full authority, the full veracity of Scripture. In our current moment in the modern age it was the Princetonians—Charles Hodge and Warfield, and after Warfield, Machen—that significantly developed and brought this doctrine to the center of the church.

It was Warfield who made a very simple argument: you start with inspiration. And his view of inspiration is what we call verbal-plenary inspiration. And what that means is that the words themselves are inspired, that’s the verbal part, not just thoughts. And then plenary means that the whole, or the complete Bible, not only the parts that address matters of faith, but the whole Bible is true.

Once you have verbal-plenary inspiration, Warfield argued, then it necessarily follows that the Bible is true. If God is the one who is speaking, and he speaks every word of the Bible through human authors, then the end product is going to be a fully true, inerrant Bible. And there were plenty within liberalism’s ranks that were more than happy to move away from inerrancy and to assert instead that Scripture is not fundamentally a divine book, but that Scripture is really a human book, and it represents the human sense of the divine encounter.

So again, this is the first domino to fall. If that’s your view of Scripture, if it’s less than authoritative, less than fully truthful, well you can see how that’s going to affect all the other doctrines. And that was the first point. Now these other four are also crucial. They touch on the work of Christ and they touch on the person of Christ, and we’re going to pick up this story next week.